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White Wines

The Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing – An Italian Immersion

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-12-40-10-pmI think I was Italian in another life!  Since the late 90’s, I have been fascinated with Italian wine and culture.  My dad grew up in an Italian neighborhood, where his mother learned to make amazing spaghetti and meatballs, and his dad learned how to make wine from their Italian friends.  Later, my dad, having been influenced by my passion for wine, delved into the world of Italian wines.  He bought the good stuff;  Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, Brunello, and Bolgheri “Super Tuscans”.  They became the centerpiece of our family celebrations.  

A true fantasy of mine has been to utilize my knowledge and passion to teach about Italian wine, and I’m finally making it happen on December 11, noon-3:30, in the Oakland hills.  With twenty years of experience in the restaurant business, and almost a decade as a sommelier, buying wine for restaurants, I’ve finally found the nerve to share my love for Italian wine with you.  So, I surrounded myself with a great team of Italian friends to help immerse this workshop in all things Italy.  We’ll travel from Sicily to Piedmont, tasting food and wine, and be serenaded by the sounds of musician Laura Inserra, playing music from each region.  It all takes place in the comforts of my beautiful home, overlooking the bay.  With the help of chef Marco Antonelli, you’ll try wild boar ragout and Barbera, from Piedmont, Focaccia al Formaggio and Pigato, from Liguria, pasta with porcini mushrooms and Etna Rosso, from Sicily, and that’s just to whet your appetite.  

The workshop is for beginners and aficionados alike.  I’ve had everyone from first time wine drinkers, to winemakers get something useful out of this workshop.  Past attendees not only loved the food and wine, but they felt engaged and included in the conversation.  Beginners will ideally start to understand what they like, and how to ask for it, while wine professionals will benefit from reinforcement of existing knowledge.  Nonetheless, it will be relaxed, informative, delicious, and engaging.  

Listen to what others are saying about the Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing HERE.  

This event will sell out.  Order your tickets and get more information HERE, and don’t miss out.

Vegetarians are welcome.   Be sure to let me know what your dietary restrictions are in advance.

I can’t wait to share the day with you.

Patrick Cress


Austrian White Wines are Perfect for Fall Fare

danube-river-in-fallI love this time of year. I love the smell of fallen leaves, and the crisp evening air on my face.  This is my favorite time of year for food, too.  Pomegranate, persimmon, nutmeg, chestnuts, sage, apples, squash, turkey, cranberry, and hearty dishes like roasted duck and braised pork shoulder.  Sometimes, my palate gets a little tired of one red wine after another, and I need a white wine to help give me some variety.  If you’re like me, Austrian whites are the way to go this fall.   

Austria has a rich history of winemaking, dating back at least 2000 years.  It thrived under (who else!) the Romans, where we first see evidence of Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s national varietal.  In virtually every important winegrowing region of the world, there is a river that is vital to producing quality grapes.  Austria’s key landmark was and still is, the Danube river.  The hillside vineyards along the Danube have poor quality soils, perfect for producing high quality grapes.  These stressed out vines produce less fruit, and spend most of their energy concentrating on the few clusters that remain on the vine.  Very little Mediterranean influence reaches Austria, so the continental climate is reliant upon this mighty river to regulate temperatures, both in the summer and winter.

What seems totally unique, though, is the influence of the Waldviertel forests in northwest Austria.  It is these nordic breezes, that flow from the northwest that heavily influence the diurnal shift from hot daytime temperatures to cold nighttime temperatures in regions like the Kremstal and Kamptal – two appellations where you get maximum bang for your buck.  A significant contrast in day / night temperatures is needed to regulate sugars in the grapes, and help facilitate the racy acidity and beautiful aromatics that are so important for exceptional whites.  The areas of Kremstal and Kamptal are more influenced by the Waldviertel forest than the Danube.  Both produce fantastic Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, and Chardonnay that have everything I’m looking for in great white wine;  flowery aromatics, silky texture, vibrant acidity, and a finish that lasts for days.

Check out these amazing Austrian whites this fall:

Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner 2014, Kamptal

The property has been a monastery since the 12th century, and the current winemaker sees himself as a steward.  Loess and loam soils challenge the vines to put most of their energy into the grapes.  

Buchegger Gruner Veltliner 2013, Vordernberg, Kremstal

The Vordernberg vineyard is prestigious for fabulous gruner.  Whole cluster pressing emphasizes the aromatic, while 4 months on the lees (dead yeast) lends itself to texture.

Geyerhof Gruner Veltliner 2014, Rosensteig vineyard, Kremstal

Organically farmed.  Gravel and crushed rock soils lend a vine to minerally characteristics in the nose.  

Weixelbaum Gruner Veltliner 2014, “Wechselberg”, Kamptal

Organically and biodynamically farmed, the Wechselberg vineyard has partly volcanic soils that are iron-rich.  These soils retain heat longer into the night and hang on the vines longer into the season.  

Hannes Reeh Chardonnay 2013, Burgenland

My sleeper chardonnay of 2016.  Creamy, and super subtle vanilla combine with citrus blossom and a wonderful texture on the palate.  The acidity is perfectly balanced.  

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.


Skin Contact Whites – White Wine For The Red Wine Drinker

orange wineHello Team, before I get into this week’s topic, I want to invite you to an event you should not miss. I’m hosting “the Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing – Volume 2” on Sunday Sept. 11, from 1-4PM in Oakland.  I’ll be working alongside long time friend and badass chef, Shawn Mattiuz.  We’ll feature our favorite flavors of fall, let you taste, and show you how our food & wine pairings work so well together.  It’ll be delicious, relaxed, fun, and informative. Reserve your ticket HERE.

There are some people that will not drink white wine.  Either they had a bad experience with a Chardonnay that tasted like dirty old feet, or almost got their soft palate burned by a searing Sauvignon Blanc.  It doesn’t matter if it’s 90 degrees out;  it’s red wine or nothing!   Others are more ambivalent towards white wine, but would much rather feast their palate on a rich and complex red.  For those of you that love red wine, I’d like to introduce you to skin contact white wines.

For thousands of years, white wine was produced in the very same way as red wine, using open top fermentors, with extended time on the skins and lees (dead yeast).  These “orange wines”, of what we now call Eastern Europe, were wild in many ways:  unpredictable, nutty, tannic, and zero shelf life.  Since the 1940’s, however, white wine production has gone through a major transformation.  Cleaner and better controlled environments, pressing juice out of grapes, cold temperature fermentation, fining and filtering, and stainless steel have become the norm.  There are many benefits to this modern winemaking style, such as more vibrant, food friendly wines.  These contemporary whites are created with some predictability in how they will last on the shelf.  But, there’s also something very exciting about the wildness of skin contact whites.  They have a life to them that you don’t get out of your everyday Sauvignon Blanc.  They have the complexity, nuttiness, structure, and body to go with the vibrancy of acid.

Skin contact whites use the same principles in making a red wine.  The juice and the skins soak together, sometimes for upwards of a month.  Winemakers can choose to ferment the wine in either closed stainless steel or cement vats, which control the process somewhat.  Or, they can get all jiggy with it and ferment exactly as they would a red wine in open top fermenters.  The process oxidises the wine, creating a hazelnut quality on the finish and caramelized color, also known as “orange wine”.  In either case, the tannins, earthiness, and floweriness are emphasized when macerating (fermenting wine on its skins) white or red wine on its skins.  In whites, you’ll get a structure and texture like red wine while still having the grace and femininity of white wine.  Consequently, these wines are some of the world’s most versatile food wines – going with everything from fish, to pork, to even beef.    

It is the more aromatic whites that work best for skin contact.  These floral notes mix really well with the richer notes that a winemaker achieves through the skin contact process.  Here are four or my favorite whites.  Click on the link to see where you might buy a bottle or twelve.

Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho 2014, “Contacto”, Monçao Melgaco, Vino Verde, Portugal

This type of wine is extremely rare in Portugal.  My guess is that Mr. Mendes is seen as a bit of an odd bird in those parts!  I love the grace and acidity of Alvarinho (also known as Albarino in Spain).  They are really graceful, and fragrant as a warm spring day when made well.  Mix that with a full month on the skins, and four months on the lees, and you get a truly exciting wine.  Notes of honeysuckle, peach, pear, and chalk.  The cucumber water-like texture, beautiful pear fruit, and subtle, food-loving tannins will seduce you.  

Batic Pinela / Rebula (Ribolla Giala) / Zelen 2014, Slovenia

Now, this part of the world is where “orange wines” start to become a little more normal!  I got a great education about “orange wine” and indigenous varietals at Oakland’s own A Coté restaurant.  Jeff Berlin has got an amazing wine list there.  This wine comes from a family owned winery, making wine since 1592!  It is organically certified, comes from the Vipava valley, and has seven days of skin contact.  It really feels like you’re drinking something vibrant and full of life when you try this wine.  Its notes of fennel, gardenia, cider, pastis, smoke, and honey make you forget you’re drinking wine for a second.  On the palate it comes across as dry, richly textured, and smoky, with a nice acid backbone, and subtle tannins.  

Antiquum Farm Pinot Gris 2015, “Aurosa”, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Winemaker Stephen Hagen is truly dedicated to holistic farming, using red clover as a cover crop, and compost to fertilize.  He literally still tends the vineyard rows with horse and plow.  The Willamette Valley in Oregon is known for two varietals world wide.  Wine aficionados love the Pinot Noir, but the oft forgotten Pinot Gris is also world class.   He lets the skins macerate for thirty-six hours in some neutral oak, and leaves the wine on the lees for five months.  I love this wine so much, with its notes of hibiscus tea, rose hip, lavender, lemon blossom, mandarin fruit, and ocean-like minerality.  It’s textured with layers of apricot fruit, and has orange-like acidity.  

Donkey & Goat Vermentino / Grenache Blanc / Marsanne / Roussanne / Picpoul “Sluice Box” 2014, El Dorado

Jared and Tracey at D&G in Berkeley are some of my favorite people in the business.  I love their dedication and stubbornness of making an old world style of wine, despite a lot of California still pining for Napa Valley wines.  You can get a glass of this wine at Revival Bar & Kitchen in Berkeley.  Almost fifty percent of the wine is left on the skins for about seven days.  I feel like this practice goes so well with their philosophy of picking early (yielding drier, more acidic wines) to create a truly complex food wine.  Think melon, peach, and caramel on the nose.  It is textured, has structure, and acid on the palate, with pronounced tannins.  Go for it!  Pair it with the heartiest of dishes.  

Skin contact white cheat sheet:

  • Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho 2014, “Contacto”,  Vino Verde, Portugal
  • Batic Pinela / Rebula (Ribolla Giala) / Zelen 2014, Slovenia
  • Antiquum Farm Pinot Gris 2015, “Aurosa”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
  • Donkey & Goat Vermentino / Grenache Blanc  “Sluice Box” 2014, El Dorado


It’s impossible to know everything about the world of wine.  Let’s keep learning.




Everyone’s Doing it. Even Canada is making good wine

Eh?As a kid, and into my late 20’s, my dad, brother, and I used to drive from our home in Detroit to northern Canada for a week of fishing and relaxation.  It was a highlight of the summer, and the best way to connect with my pop.  We used to “smuggle” top shelf vino into the country, because the wine situation in Sault Ste. Marie (“the Soo”) was dire.  My dad hated that we snuck wine over the border, because he was a law abiding man that was true to his word.  All was forgiven, though, after we tried that pirated ‘91 Mugneret Nuit-St-Georges 1er Cru paired with freshly caught partridge. To this day, it is one of my favorite food & wine pairings ever. There was no way we were going to get anything close to that at the Ontario government controlled liquor store.  

15 years after the last pilgrimage, my family and I went back to Canada to honor my pop and reminisce of experiences past.  We drove through “the Soo” on our way, and had an unusual experience buying wine.  First of all, you can’t go into a grocery store, liquor store, or wine store to buy wine.  The Canadians and their provincial government only sell wine (and liquor for that matter) through a few designated stores called “LCBO” (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), and there are only 3 in the whole city.  Some of these stores, like the one in Chapleau, Ontario have a really sad assortment.  Some, like the one I went into in “the Soo” (population 75,000) are a far cry from the wine situation in decades past.  They had a robust selection from most wine producing countries of the world;  France, Italy, Australia, California, Portugal, and even Canada.  I was pleasantly surprised that the Canadian government came through for us!  See, not all governments are bad!

As per usual, I like to buy wine locally wherever I can.  I had heard about the world class icewine (grapes that ripen on the vine until the first freeze) from Ontario, but didn’t really have a clue what else was being produced.  To my surprise, I couldn’t find one icewine in the store, but I found a lots of other wines from the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario.  So, I did a little research.

The VQA Niagara Peninsula appellation produces over half of Ontario’s wine, and is helped greatly by Lake Ontario’s regulating temperatures.  It’s a cool climate appellation, as you might expect, but the long summer days, a relatively large shift in day-night temperatures, and well drained soils help ripen some varietals just enough.  I found riesling, chardonnay, dry rosé, pinot noir, cab franc, and merlot at the LCOB. The wines that stood out to me were the Cave Spring dry Riesling 2013, and Trius Gamay / Syrah Rosé 2015.  Each of those wines was low in alcohol, high in acid, and perfect for the hot, sticky summer days that find their way to the region in July.

My trip to Canada with the family was wonderful.  I really felt at home there, and felt my dad’s presence with us too.  I envisioned him sitting at the dinner table, his usual two-ounce pour of wine, toasting to life and washing down Aunt Carolyn’s comfort foods.  The wines on this trip weren’t like the ‘91 Mugneret we had years ago, but they were solid, well-made food wines that went well with simple cuisine.  Next time you’re in Canada, don’t be afraid to try a few from the VQA Niagara Peninsula.

Wines that “Pop” Jack would have enjoyed:

  • Cave Spring dry Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula
  • Trius Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula

And the secret weapon:

  • Domaine Pinnacle Cidre de glace-ice, Quebec – made from frozen apples


We can never know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.



Every now and again there’s a wine that comes along that doesn’t fit into a box and helps redefine the definition of a really great wine.

Preston Vineyards 2

I love my job, because I love to learn and get surprised. Discovering new treasures never gets old. I find that staying curious, open, and available to experience the unknown always works in my favor. Last Thursday I was lucky enough to have one of those magical moments.

I attended a wine pairing event at Millenium in Oakland. The featured winemaker was Chris Condos (Vinum cellars, Kathryn Kennedy ) from Horse & Plow. The surprise gem of the evening was an unsulfured and organically farmed 2013 Sauvignon blanc from the Preston Vineyard in Dry Creek. WOW! The texture and complexity was absolutely sensational.  It reminded me of 1er Cru Chablis from Bourgogne because of its viscosity and weight while having well balanced acid, lovely minerality, and delicious fruit.

The most intriguing and paradoxical aspect of it was that it was completely different than any other Sauvignon blanc I’ve had before.  Unlike the usual suspects of Sauvignon blanc – being predictably clean and crisp, it was complex yet accessible.  It also had beautiful fruit mixed with earth, minerals and nutty undertones.

Most winemakers never go the route of making unsulfured wines because it’s too risky. Sulfur helps stabilize the wine and prevents oxidation.  If you don’t have the perfect acidity — your wine turns to vinegar.  It takes a master of alchemy to pull this off.  And in my opinion, Chris hit it out of the park.  One of the things I admire most about him is that he doesn’t shy away from the challenge of producing natural wines.  His philosophy is to use sustainable practices to craft wines with greater complexity and sense of place, while caring for worker health and the environment.

Despite some of the stressors that can come with growing organically Chris stood firm in his beliefs.  He chose to experiment with the Preston vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley as his #1 choice of fruit because of its pristine quality and high acidity.  He didn’t add any sulfur, left it in neutral barrels for 4-5 months on the lees (dead yeast from fermentation that give a wine texture and a subtly nutty taste), and sweated it out.

With tremendous faith he had to give the wine enough space to go through a series of phases, including a “dumb phase”, where the wine’s earthy and tannic qualities dominate the fruity qualities.  The result is the fruit caught up with the earthy minerality, and tannins and became a real symphony of a wine;  silky texture, delicious fruit, rocky minerality, and great structure.  All of these qualities reminded me of Bourgogne which uses a different varietal but has a similar flavor profile.    

Chris is a maverick.  His patience, courage, and keen sense of knowing how to put the right variables together created a delicious product with just enough experimentation and originality.

I recommend the 2013 Horse & Plow Preston Vineyard Sauvignon blanc with herbed goat cheese, Petrale sole with butter and parsley, grilled pork chops with sauteed mushrooms, seared scallops, or trout salad with toasted hazelnuts.  

You’ll want to grab your bottle HERE.  There are only few more bottles left so jump on it and don’t miss out.

Be sure to also leave a comment below.  What have been your favorite wines that have made you think outside of the box?  What did you think of this Sauvignon blanc with the suggested pairings?   Your feedback is very important to me.

Again…you can never know too much about wine.  Let’s keep learning.



The Journey of the Chardonnay Grape from Old World to California…These Top 5 will make you a fan

Chat Montelena '76 TastingCalifornia Chardonnay has gone through a transformation over the years. It was the Judgement of Paris in 1976 that put it on the map as a serious wine that could rival Burgundy producers who’d been making wine for centuries.

But during the 1990’s, a lot of experimentation in the California wine market took place. The ideologies wanted to reflect American culture and aimed to create a bigger more flavorful wine.

Three major changes happened: 1.) Winemakers started using a heavy hand in techniques like full Malolactic fermentation. This process changed the tart malic acid to a silky / buttery lactic acid.  2.) They also let the grapes hang longer to create more sugars. 3.) Lastly, they barrel fermented the wine for lengthy periods of time to create dominant baking spice flavors.  

These wines began to take on a playful cocktail shape for social occasions rather than serious artistic statements for dinners. Whereas French Burgundy Chardonnay wines have focused on subtle fruit, rocky minerality and vibrant acidity that bring out the savoriness in food.

In last 6 years, the old school style of Chard’s has come full circle. This happened for 2 reasons:  1.) In 2010 and 2011, record low temperatures forced winemakers to return to the old style of more acidity and structure. 2.)  Coincidentally, a younger generation of winemakers started making food friendly wines, as they grew tired of the one dimensionality of the commercial Chardonnays made during the last two decades.  

I find Chardonnay to be truly delightful when made well.  Here are 5 really delicious California Chardonnays that approximate the complexity of Burgundy; grown right here in our own backyard:

Saracina Chardonnay 2015, “unoaked”, Estate, Mendocino $17.99 retail

Blended with 4% Viognier for flowery aromatics, all the fruit for this wine is made from a 30-year-old certified organic vineyard on John Fetzer’s Sundial Ranch.  California wine rock star David Ramey is the consulting winemaker, and he don’t play!  On the nose you’ll smell candied grapefruit, lime, grass and lychee.  It drinks like a silky Sauvignon blanc with a noticeable acid backbone and grapefruit finish.  Pair it with potato leek soup, roasted chicken with fennel or seared scallops with lime / lemongrass coconut cream sauce.  http://www.saracina.com

Keenan Chard 2013, Estate, Spring Mountain. Napa Valley  – $32.99 retail

Barrel fermented with no Malolactic (this process changes the tart malic acid to a silky / buttery lactic acid) this minimalist intervention wine comes from a vineyard that sits on picturesque Spring Mountain overlooking Napa Valley.   The feel of the vineyard is far removed from our experience of Napa via highway 29.  It’s wildness influences and nurtures the grapes to perfection.  On the nose you might smell pear, peach, almond extract, absinthe and hay – which foreshadows the complexity of the palate.  Its lovely texture and nervy backbone (acid and structure) make it ideal for pairing with pork shoulder braised in milk or grilled pork chops.  http://www.keenanwinery.com

Stomping Girl Chardonnay 2013, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros – $40 retail

Situated a few miles from the San Pablo Bay makes all the difference when the fog from the bay and cool nights swoop in to brighten up the acidity of these grapes.  The famous Larry Hyde vineyard in the Napa part of Carneros has a waiting list to obtain grapes from this superior vineyard, and Stomping Girl was lucky enough to obtain some.  I find the nose complex with notes of grass, caramelized pear and stone fruit.   The palate sings with gorgeous fruit notes, accents of cedar, hazelnut and nutmeg to finish.  Pair this with hazelnut-crusted trout and crab cakes with rémoulade.  https://www.stompinggirlwines.com

2013 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast – $40.99 retail

Winemaker Jeff Pisoni, son of California wine rock star Gary Pisoni, has recently joined the Fort Ross team, so I’m confident the winemaking is in good hands.  Only 378 cases were made in total!  Fort Ross’ vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean and struggle to ripen – extracting the taste of salty minerals out of thin air and producing a bright acid backbone.  Notes of toast pop out of the glass from a small percentage of new oak used in aging.  Its extended lees contact (after fermentation the yeast die but remain to add silkiness) gives a deliciously creamy texture.  The apricot and pear fruit linger from nose to finish.  Pair with seared Ahi tuna with ginger & orange, or risotto with squash & oyster mushrooms. http://www.fortrossvineyard.com

Stony Hill Chardonnay 2008, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley  – $41.99 retail

Fred McRea purchased the property in 1945 becoming one of Napa’s first bonded wineries.  Their first vintage was in 1952, and I don’t think the style of winemaking has changed one bit!  Not that it’s a bad thing – these wines are as unique as any in California. Neutral oak and zero malolactic fermentation make this wine age-worthy, and will give you a “double take” to make sure it’s not from the Mosel!  Gorgeous nose of peach, apricot and petrol.  Its Lemony acid and nervy acidity will make you pine for food.  Pair this with pan-seared salmon with a lemon beurre blanc or mussels in a saffron cream sauce. http://www.stonyhillvineyard.com

Make sure you try of few of these pairings and leave me a comment or question below. I’d like to know what’s been your experience of Chardonnay?  Are you a fan or are you someone that won’t drink Chardonnay because you assume that they’re all too oaky and buttery?  If that’s the case, did any of these wines change your mind?   

Tune in next week when I answer Caroline Lee’s question about the best Sonoma County wines for under $20.